Majoring in Football?

Unlike some in the higher education world, I am often a fan of big-time college athletics. They do provide important benefits to both the university and the broader community, such as social cohesion, increased levels of public support, and (under the right circumstances) economic development. However, my support is limited to when the following conditions are met:

(1)    Athletics must interfere with academics as little as possible for the broader campus community. I understand that athletes’ schedules will be difficult to maintain, but let’s can the nuttiness of weekday evening football games. Other sports can have evening events during the week, but they don’t shut down campus like football does.

(2)    Students must not be forced to provide massive subsidies for athletics programs, as is often the case at non-BCS (think directional state universities with Division I athletics) colleges. Here in Big Ten land, passionate alumni bases giving oodles of money to athletic departments and the successful Big Ten Network have reduced athletic subsidies to a minimum.

(3)    Athletes must care about academics as much as other students (which may not necessarily be that much). Here at Wisconsin, I’ve interacted with a fair number of athletes and nearly all of the experiences have been with students who clearly appreciate the value of a free education and take their academics seriously.

I was extremely disappointed to learn about the case of Ohio State third-string freshman quarterback Cardale Jones,  who clearly violated condition (3) above. He unwisely tweeted the following statement last Friday:

“”Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS”

Jones was suspended for last Saturday’s game against Nebraska, in which the Huskers were shucked by the score of 63-38. Although Jones would have been unlikely to play, at least Ohio State took some action.

Individuals like Jones are likely in college in the first place because there is not a serious minor league system in football, unlike in baseball and hockey. But given the fact that he is playing at a state-supported university of higher education, he needs to keep his thoughts to himself. Plenty of people in college don’t care much about classes, but they don’t have the same public stage as a Buckeye football player.

As a side note, the comments on the Inside Higher Ed note on this situation are worth a read.

Author: Robert

I am an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. All opinions are my own.